VERMILLION, S.D. | As the youngest of three children, Steven Jensen learned at an early age the importance of seeking justice, or at least fighting against injustice.
His two older sisters seemed to make sure he understood that things weren't always going to be fair -- at least not when you're the little brother.
"They taught me at a very early age what injustice looked like," Jensen told a laughing audience shortly after being sworn in as the 50th justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court Friday afternoon in the University of South Dakota School of Law courtroom.
After taking the oath of office upon a Bible held by his wife, Sue, Jensen told a standing-room-only crowd that since his appointment was announced on Sept. 17, he had been greeted with the title of "justice" by an increasing number of people. The 54-year-old Dakota Dunes resident said it made him think about what that term means, and he was reminded of a Bible verse from the book of Micah in which the Lord requires him "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
It's a reminder, Jensen said, that justice is a God-given duty that he and others should strive for.
"I believe the title of justice is really just a daily reminder to me and the other members of the Supreme Court of the importance of the task we have," said Jensen, who had served the previous 14 years as a circuit judge in the state's 1st Judicial Circuit in southeast South Dakota.
The Wakonda, South Dakota, native and 1988 USD law school graduate spent 14 years practicing with the Crary Huff law firm in Sioux City and Dakota Dunes before then-Gov. Mike Rounds appointed him to the bench in 2003. Jensen was re-elected in 2006 and 2014. He was appointed the circuit's presiding judge in 2011.
South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who appointed Jensen to the Supreme Court, told the crowd that Jensen had built up an impressive resume that included service on numerous panels and committees that have helped reform and improve the state's judicial system.
"Judge Jensen, you may know, has been a leader in our state's legal community," Daugaard said. "I have an immense amount of respect for Judge Jensen."
Chief Justice David E. Gilbertson said the South Dakota Supreme Court has existed for 128 years, and there have been only 50 justices, many of them serving lengthy terms. It shows the importance that each new appointee is the right choice. Daugaard made the right choice in appointing Jensen, Gilbertson said.
"The Supreme Court is only as good as those justices called to serve on it," he said. "Today, we welcome onto the court one of the best, Steven Jensen."